I'll admit it. I am genetically doomed to lose my hair sooner rather than later. Since I've relegated myself to my fate, there are fewer feelings in this world that surpass the one I get when I go for a drive, feeling the wind rush through my receding hairline. Others may fantasize about driving exotic cars at ridiculous speeds; I just want the wind in my hair. Fortunately, Codemasters' GRID is an experience that is so immersive and fun that I can almost feel the wind in my hair coming from the TV.
However, that may just be the fan that I keep on high near it during the hot summer months.
Regardless, if you aspire to drive really expensive cars really fast, GRID is right up your alley. While most racing games designate themselves as a simulation or arcade style racer, GRID resides in an unexplored sweet spot nestled perfectly between the two.
It all begins with the physics. They feel satisfying and weighty without forcing the player to perfectly memorize lines and take into account drive train, horsepower, tire type, and the weight of the drink in the cup holder like the hard core simulations. At the same time, the cars handle smoothly and easily, with a newbie-friendly learning curve. The game simply controls like a dream, with some of the most satisfying driving controls I've ever experienced. The game also supports the wireless 360 wheel.
In addition to the phenomenal controls and physics is a damage engine unlike any I've ever encountered. Even the outstanding car damage in Grand Theft Auto 4 pales in comparison to the outstanding damage modelling seen here. The slightest contact will ding and dent your car, while ploughing into a stationary target will rip your car to pieces faster than a hungry dog into a well-cooked ham. Best of all, if you or your opponents lose a piece of your car, it remains on the track for the rest of the race to harass and annoy other drivers.
All is not lost if you manage to kiss that guardrail at 200 MPH. Like a well known acrobatic prince, players are able to rewind time a by a few seconds to pre-crash status. The system for rewinding works well. Players are rewarded with more cash in the career mode by not using it, and the harder difficulties limit how many times per race you can use the feature.
Driver AI in GRID is outstanding. Your opponents will cut you off, run you off the road, and guard their position with authority. Unlike other racing games, the AI drivers aren't glued to the track's racing lines, and display stunning dynamic reactions to your every move. They will even crash and wreck on their own accord.
GRID features a unique career mode that will likely please casual players, but will leave hardcore gearheads thirsting for more. You begin the game by gaining what little reputation you can by taking meagre driver offers from established companies. Eventually you'll make enough money to buy your first car and start up a racing team of your own. As you progress through a variety of races, you'll gain more reputation, make more money, and make a name for yourself and your driving team. Money is earned not only by winning races, but by accepting sponsor offers and completing specific goals set forth by the sponsor.
The career mode offers 45 different cars to drive, mostly of the exotic variety, all designed to sport team colours and designs of your own choosing. Unfortunately, the visual aspect is pretty much all the customization you get. If you want to tweak gear ratios, choose from 20 different tires and upgrade the spark plugs, you'll have to do it elsewhere. This omission may disappoint the car enthusiast, but makes the game far more accessible to a wider audience.
While making your way through the career mode you'll enter a surprising variety of races. You'll enter a standard race in the U.S., only to be followed by a demolition derby. Then you'll go to Europe to take part in a city race. Then you'll go to Japan and enter drift races, and "respect" races that penalize you for making contact with your opponent. There's a race type for everyone in GRID. Each season in the game ends with the famous Le Mans 24 hour race, where each hour is represented by one minute on the clock. Still, getting through 24 minutes with only 4 flashback uses is a significant challenge. Just finishing the race is cause to celebrate.
Unfortunately, the total lack of split-screen multiplayer is a very disappointing oversight. The finely tuned racing mechanics are just begging to be shared with a friend, and you'll have to go online or system link in order to do so. At least the online modes are fast, and the comprehensive online leaderboards will keep you coming back for more long after you've won your last trophy in the career mode.
The graphical presentation is truly something to behold. The cars look great, whether they're intact on the starting line, or limping across the finish line in a mangled wreck. The cars are meticulously textured and sport outstanding lighting effects. Even better looking are the tracks which feature fully animated audiences and fantastic textures and staggering detail. Sure, you won't notice the details much as you barrel past them at retina-searing speed, but it's always nice to know its there. A very detailed cockpit view completes the graphical package.
However, GRID's audio is by far its weakest link. While you're racing you'll be addressed by name by a race leader who is giving you advice about how your car is doing and updating you on the status of other racers. Unfortunately, he's commonly wrong about what he's saying and repeats the same phrases. For example, he'll say "someone has spun out up ahead, I think it's (name here)," when "name here" is actually four seconds ahead of you in a nearly unattainable first place. Also, there's no music during the races themselves, which is another puzzling oversight. At least you can play with custom soundtracks on the X360 version. Even the engine noises sound kind of tinny, and nowhere near as throaty as you'd expect from some of these speed machines.
It essentially boils down to this: If you're a racing fan, arcade or simulation, you owe it to yourself to give GRID a try. Despite missing some key features found in other racing titles, GRID nails the on-track gameplay so well, that you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not taking it for a test drive. The wind rushing through your hair is optional.